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Hong Kong localism and independence

Hong Kong legislator Eddie Chu renews push to reform city’s rural affairs

Chu, who claimed he got death threats last time he challenged the powerful Heung Yee Kuk, considers running in village head election – and wants like-minded others to do the same

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 August, 2018, 3:00pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 August, 2018, 10:53pm

Hong Kong localist lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, who claimed to have received death threats for taking on rural vested interests during the 2016 Legislative Council elections, is launching a fresh crusade to democratise politics in the New Territories.

Chu is considering standing in January’s village head elections and is reaching out via social media in a search for liberal-minded villagers to run in other villages.

He made reforming the Heung Yee Kuk – the powerful rural affairs body – his primary political mission during the 2016 campaign. He bagged 84,121 votes – the highest tally for any candidate in all five geographical constituencies.

“I am not trying to overthrow the kuk. I only want to make it more transparent and accountable,” Chu, a resident of Yuen Kong San Tsuen, in Yuen Long, said.

“We don’t expect a big win. But if only one of us can become a village head and get a seat on the rural committee, we can make noise and campaign for allowing greater public access to committee papers or meetings.

“Many villagers I came across told me that they did care about village affairs, like environmental protection or law and order, but their village heads usually only concern themselves with selling land or building flats for profit. I believe many villagers want change.”

The kuk has faced loud calls for reform since Chu’s controversial allegations that he received death threats because of his campaign against what he saw as the unfair use of land in rural areas. Chu once required police protection.

Four people were subsequently arrested for tailing Chu on polling day. A court last year jailed three of the men for two months each. The fourth, a teenager, received community service.

Held every four years, village head polls decide seats on the lowest layer of rural politics. Customarily, village head posts are occupied by rural power brokers, who run unopposed. In the 2015 rural elections, 944 candidates were elected uncontested, and 924 candidates from 330 villages and market towns competed for 476 seats. The average turnout was 63.4 per cent, with 54,229 villagers voting.

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Under the present system, a head of a village is given a seat on the district’s rural committee. A rural committee chairman, elected among village heads, is given a seat on the district council and will also become an ex officio member of the kuk.

The kuk has a seat in the Legislative Council, and it takes up 26 seats on the 1,200-member Election Committee tasked with choosing Hong Kong’s leader.

Shap Pat Heung rural committee chairman Leung Fook-yuen said: “I wish [Chu] good luck. The election is organised by the government and it is open and fair. Anyone who is eligible can take part. Voters can also pick a higher-quality candidate in a competitive election.”

Barrister Terry Kan Wing-fai, one of the three heads in the indigenous village of Long Chung Pak in Fanling, said Chu’s bid to reform rural politics was irrelevant.

“It is not about whether there is one-man-one-vote or not,” said Kan, son of retired horse trainer and Sheung Shui rural committee chairman Brian Kan Ping-chee. “Chu probably has misunderstood rural people. What made him think many rural residents are interested in the election?”

In the 2015 poll, in Kau Tam Tso village in Sha Tau Kok, Lee Koon-yuen won the poll with 11 votes. In Ha Ling Pei village in Tung Chung, Yeung Lai-wah won 29 votes and became the village head. In Luk Chau, an island village off Lamma Island, Yiu Man-fai won with 23 votes.

Chu probably has misunderstood rural people. What made him think many rural residents are interested in the election?
Terry Kan, village head

“I am not saying that the kuk has become useless. But its role in rural affairs is diminishing,” Kan said.

“The concept of a rural village is very different from what it was 100 years ago. Many rural villages have now become very modern and urbanised,” added Kan, who was re-elected in 2015 with 133 votes.

Legislator Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, also the head of Leung Tin Tsuen in Tuen Mun, said village heads should spare more time to help villagers solve their daily livelihood issues. “What should be in your mind all the time is serving the villagers in the best way, not playing politics or grabbing power,” he said.

Ho also said he was considering seeking another term.